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Can an Act-Consequentialist Theory Be Agent-Relative?
"One thing…all [consequentialist theories] share…is a very simple and seductive idea: namely, that so far as morality is concerned, what people ought to do is to minimize evil and maximize good…. On the face of it, this idea, which lies at the heart of consequentialism, seems hard to resist. For given only the innocent-sounding assumption that good is morally preferable to evil, it seems to embody the principle that we should maximize the desirable and minimize the undesirable, and that principle seems to be one of the main elements of our conception of practical rationality…. Nevertheless, consequentialism has implications that appear to sharply conflict with some of our most firmly held moral convictions. …[And] non-consequentialists…argue that consequentialism can at best be reconciled not with our actual values, but only with their simulacra. To reflect our actual values, they claim, a moral view must include what have recently come to be called agent-relative elements, which are incompatible with consequentialism. —Samuel Scheffler The above nicely summarizes the current impasse in the debate over consequentialism. On the one had, consequentialism is very compelling in that it holds that it is always morally permissible to bring about the best available state of affairs—whereas deontology seems almost paradoxical in that it insists that it is wrong to commit a right’s violation even in order to minimize such violations overall. But, on the other hand, consequentialism seems to have some very counterintuitive implications, implications that can only be avoided by a normative theory that incorporates agent-relative elements. However, all this assumes that we cannot have a theory that incorporates both these agent-relative elements and the idea that it is always permissible to bring about the best available state of affairs. In other words, the assumption is that consequentialism—the view that agents ought to minimize evil and maximize the good—goes 2 hand in hand with agent neutrality. In this paper, I argue that it is a mistake to equate consequentialism with agent-neutrality."